The new strain of the CCP virus that emerged in the UK spreads over 50 percent faster and could make up nine out of 10 cases in the southeast of England by mid-January, according to a preliminary study.
The study (pdf), by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, used mathematical modeling to project the spread of the new strain in the southeast quarter of the country where it is already beginning to dominate.
Echoing comments made by government scientists, he said that the study provided “no clear evidence it leads to higher rates of hospitalisation or death.”
However, the study concluded that the higher transmission was likely to ultimately push up the number of cases and drive hospitalisations and deaths beyond the levels of 2020.
“Without effective control policies, rapid surges are predicted and the burden in the first six months of 2021 may be greater than what was seen in 2020,” Davies wrote on Twitter.
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, analysed data on the variant in London, the southeast, and the east of England.
“If current trends continue, the new variant could represent 90 percent of cases by mid-January.”
Many scientists earlier this week emphasised that there was no evidence yet that vaccines would not be effective on the new strain.
‘Little About How the Virus Spreads has Changed’
“The response to the new variant has generated a much greater reaction than the previous report of the D614G mutation which arose several months ago and has clearly been shown to increase virus growth rates,” said Dr. Jonathan Stoye of the Francis Crick Institute.
“Perhaps the heightened response this time around reflects a growing anxiety about the increasing virus spread. In reality, little about how the virus spreads between people has changed.”
The emergence of the new variant in the UK has led to calls for the government to shift tack on the vaccine roll-out, and to give only one of the recommended two doses per person. The rationale is that individual protection from the virus would drop by a small margin, but that overall it would help bring the spread under control.
The UK government said yesterday that two cases of another variant from South Africa had been detected, announcing flights were banned, and that recent arrivals must now quarantine.
As with the UK strain, information is limited, but scientists say it could be driving a rise of infections in South Africa that could be potentially bigger than the first wave.
Dr. Andrew Preston of the University of Bath said both the South African and UK variants contain an unusually high number of mutations compared to other SARS-CoV-2 lineages.
“Some of these mutations change the S protein, which is cause for concern. Both contain the N501Y mutation but so do many other variants that do not appear to have increased transmission, so the picture is complex.”
The UK is a world leader in identifying different strains of the virus, leading some to speculate that other more transmissible strains could be spreading undetected in other places.
“The UK has used genomics throughout the pandemic and thus was well placed to identify the new variant early during its rise,” said Preston. “In other countries that do not have this capacity, it is quite possible that these variants are already in circulation, but currently unidentified. It appears we are entering a particularly dangerous phase of this pandemic, making the effective roll-out of the vaccines even more time-critical.”
The UK government yesterday announced more areas will be subject to the toughest curbs from Boxing Day, meaning 24 million people in the southeast of England will effectively be in lockdown, with all but essential shops shut down, along with gyms, hairdressers, and pubs.